Thursday, April 11, 2013

Youth at the Helm

A Cracking Good Concert

The playing of student and youth orchestras took a vast step forward when advisers and administrators realised that style is only acquired by experience; that teenagers can cope with Prokofiev and Mahler more readily than Bach, Mozart and Haydn.

In the plethora of concerts sometimes there is one that makes life joyful, when programme, performance and even acoustics are just right. The event becomes an experience, routine is banished. Such an occasion was the concert in the Cadogan Hall on February22 played by the orchestra of Chetham's School, Manchester. It was a most satisfying and exhilarating event. The conductor, Paul Mann, had a perfect rapport with his players who gave him and the composers whose work they played all that was asked for, the result exceeding the sum of the items. O.K., some of the solos lacked the refinement and superior virtuosity of famous orchestras that I have heard give superlative accounts of the Symphony No 5 of Shostakovich under Stokowsky and Bernstein but the spirit was thrillingly right. it all worked: the strange flute reference to Carmen in the opening movement, those low growling horns and macabre trumpets, the piano pickingups, the eloquence of the slow movements strings, the sardonic E flat clarinet in the Waltz, the ecstatic trumpet solo in the finale and the thundering coda's resolution, everything was realized. And the acoustic in the Cadogan being so much smaller than the RFH, Barbican or Bertie Hall made the audience much more than usually involved, even overwhelmed. Our ears were saturated, our hearts touched and our senses palpably stirred.

The first half of the concert was equally satisfying: first, Britten's farewell to the orchestra, his folk-song suite A Time there Was. Such innovatory combinations of sound and, towards the end, that heart-rending cor anglais solo that seems to stammer its life away.

Britten's valediction was followed by Prokofiev's impetuous entry into the concerto repertory, his number 1 with just about the most striking opening of any concerto, yearning, aspiring and quite gorgeous. The soloist was Yuanfan Yang (BBC Young Musician competition winner), still the slip of a boy but already a giant of the keyboard. The concerto is all bits and pieces but it somehow gels when played for all it is worth – and more. 

This was an evening to remember!

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